Photo credit: Jeffrey Stilwell
Scientist Jeffrey Stilwell, along with his colleagues, studied more than 5,800 amber pieces from the Macquarie Harbour Formation in Western Tasmania as well as the Anglesea coal seams west of Melbourne, dating all the way back to the early Eocene Epoch. In one piece, they discovered a rare “frozen behavior” of two mating long-legged flies. Amber not only preserves animals and insects, but it suspends them in a surreal scene.
Amber is created when tree resin drips down a trunk, or in other words, it’s a tree’s defense mechanism and designed to stick to any insects that may try to consume it. If the resin drips in the right place, like in a swamp or forest, it hardens, preserving whatever gets caught in the material. After a long period of time, those forests eventually turn into fossil fuels like coal.
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Unfortunately, it seems Australia has been host to biting midges for a very long time. DNA does not get preserved for that long. Amber is not airtight. DNA will degrade,” said Doctor Andrew Langendam, one of the team’s microscopists.